Conserving the Library Lunette

The Library Lunette that was recently restored

The lunette window by Francis Eginton is made of enamelled and painted glass and is based on Raphael’s ‘School of Athens” depicting the greatest thinkers of the classical world. It is signed ‘Frs. Eginton 1803’ in the lower left pane of the central section.

The vibrant yet translucent image, made in 1803 by Francis Eginton, was created by painting two panes of very thin crown glass on both sides using glass paint and transparent enamel. This is similar to the later Impressionist technique pointillism. These are then fired at least twice, to fix the paint to the surface. The two panes were then held together in the surrounding frame by putty.

A potted biography of Francis Eginton

Francis Eginton (1737-1805) was trained as an enameller and went to work for the celebrated Soho manufactory, founded by Mathew  Boulton, where he managed the Japanned metalwork section. He also collaborated with Boulton on a method of printing images onto glass. The method they developed for the engraved plates for Boulton’s Polygraphs or ‘sun pictures’ fed directly into Eginton’s working methods.

In 1784 he left Soho and set up his own business at Prospect Hill House, he revived the art of glass painting and produced a series of painted glass works from his Birmingham factory; the majority of Eginton’s bigger pieces are adaptations of easel paintings.

What happened?

In 2016 conservators from Holy Well Glass removed the damaged panels from the Lunette to their studios to clean and stabilise historic damage. The work couldn’t be done in-situ due to the solvents needed in the conservation process and the unique multi-layered construction method used to create the Lunette.

In the past some repairs have been made by smearing putty into cracks in the glass. All this old putty and glue was removed.  Then the conservators built the panes up vertically using conservation grade adhesive to ensure they are stable for the next two hundred years. This process was repeated for each of the 7 panels conserved.

Some of the window panels also had historic repairs from before the National Trust cared for Stourhead, where puddles of glue were used to fix the shattered glass on to newer glass. These historic repairs are part of the Lunette’s history and are still in very stable condition so these panels were left as they are.

The enamel and glass were generally in good condition. However, in some panels there are areas where the pigment has lifted and disturbed the glass surface. At some point cold colour was been crudely added as an attempt to fill the blank patch. As this is part of the object’s history this area was not restored to its original condition.

What’s the difference between conservation and restoration?

Conservation is about maintaining the condition of objects by preventing damage or deterioration. It stabilises items rather than making them look better. Conservation should always be reversible. As new techniques and products are developed historic repairs can be removed and replaced without causing further damage to the object.

Restoration is usually about returning an item to something more like its original state or appearance. Stripping and re-waxing wooden furniture or re-upholstering a chair are restoration techniques and can be more invasive to the objects.

The National Trust tries to preserve the historic integrity of objects by practicing good preventative conservation (from controlling light damage through to dusting regularly) and therefore minimising the need for conservation intervention. Where deterioration has occurred we support or stabilise rather than restore. As a result the differences in the object before and after conservation can sometimes be pretty tricky to spot.